In order to improve on the Silliman Bi-Focal Theory of Contemporary Poetry, Robert Archambeau looks to an essay by David Kellogg.

Based on Robert's summary, however, I can't see how this is any improvement. The structure of the grid is the same, although Kellogg has added a dimension.

Poetry is assumed to be this product which flows out of culture in measurable quantities. You can establish fixed criteria for assigning individual pieces of the product to a grid : ie., "tradition" and "innovation" are already known & defined, "self" and "community" are items you can abstract without too much difficulty from any particular portion of the GNPP (Gross National Poetry Product). Voila : your poet is assigned a critical niche in the Standard Schema.

But what if the patterns of formative imitation which poets utilize are exactly the same - whether you're in either of the so-called camps? Innovators are imitating their 20th-century models; traditionalists are doing likewise. Both are claiming the mantle of tradition (the traditions of new & old, respectively). Add a further twist : what if the innovators claim to be new by going back to older models (epics, Native American songs, collective poetics, performance art, etc.) in order to be "new"? What if the models of the so-called traditionalists (rhymed iambic couplets, say) are of more recent provenance than those of the innovators (say, free-verse anaphoric lines)?

The fact of the matter is that originality is not informed by the artist's attitude toward stylistic change. In other words, there is no "new" model for imitation : every model - by virtue of being a model - is already traditional. Who is more traditional today than the poets who imitate the 20th-century avant garde?

[p.s. this statement needs refinement. Let me say this : actually, the original, inventive poet will pay very close attention to stylistic developments and what they might mean. But what makes for originality is not their capacity for consistency - ie. the consistent allegiance to whatever is considered the trend of the moment. Original poetry is invariably anomalous : it is original precisely because the poet does not "follow" any particular trend. Thus critical schemas which emphasize such trends, based on abstract invariables such as Kellogg proposes, inevitably distort the un-paraphrasable, empirically-complex literary reality.]

The issue of "self" & "community" is perhaps even more vexed, but I'm not going to get into that here.

I object to the abstract, generic quality of the grid approach to criticism. It's lazy thinking : pigeonholing, card filing. The uniqueness of interesting poetry swallows up every proposed schema : the talent of the great & gifted poet takes a certain essential aspect of poetry - its capacity for obliterating and transcending our habitual mental & philosophical categories - and multiplies it exponentially. Individual poets are always contradicting so-called trends & traditions : & then the new supposed traditions are established in their wake, by their imitators; & then, running a distant third, the critics come along with their cute little diagrams.

Even those poets who seem so middlebrow, mediocre, unable to escape the cliches and paradigms of their period styles - say, Longfellow, considered from the usual 20th-century perspective - if looked at closely and carefully, suddenly begin to reveal their inimitable qualities, their uniqueness. & then it's time for "reconsideration" : critics, prepare your outlines!!!!

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